Zazie dans le Métro

(director/writer: Louis Malle; screenwriter: Jean-Paul Rappeneau/from the novel by Raymond Queneau; cinematographer: Henri Raichi; editor: Kenout Peltier; music: Fiorenzo Carpi/Andre Pontin; cast: Catherine Demongeot (Zazie), Philippe Noiret (Uncle Gabriel), Hubert Deschamps (Turandot), Carla Marlier (Albertine), Annie Fratellini (Mado), Vittorio Caprioli (Trouscaillon), Odette Piquet (Zazie’s mother), Antoine Roblot (Charles), Nicolas Bataille (Fédor), Yvonne Clech (Madame Mwack), Jacques Dufilho (Ferdinand Grédoux), Marc Doelnitz (M. Coquetti); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis Malle; New Yorker Video; 1960-France-in French with English subtitles)


“An interesting failure.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This third feature from French New Wave filmmaker Louis Malle (“Calcutta”/”Murmur of the Heart”/”Elevator to the Gallows”) is an experimental lighthearted comedy bending over backwards to be nutty and bears no resemblance to the other two films he made. It’s a takeoff on the Mack Sennett silent slapstick comedies and it inventively makes use of a series of cinematic tricks (such as speeding up the camera movements through trickery and using various color changing effects), and evokes madcap memories from anarchist comedies featuring the Keystone Kops to the Marx Brothers to the Three Stooges. It’s more frenetic than funny, less innocent than daring, offering a surreal view of a brightly colored Paris of the 1950s. But it’s not endearing, has no discernible point, no warmth, and eventually wears out its good feelings with too much craziness. But if you’re in a silly mood and don’t mind that it’s plotless, has more film styles in one film than you believe possible and is absurd beyond belief, you can do worse than this screwball comedy that’s at least chock full of ideas and stylishly easy on the eyes. It’s based on the popular farcical novel by Raymond Queneau, known for its tricky wordplay.

Zazie (Catherine Demongeot, an 11-year-old) is an energetic, saucy and foul-mouthed 12-year-old brat from the sticks who is dropped off in Paris by her widowed mother Jeanne (Odette Piquet), who killed her unfaithful hubby with an ax, with her decadent uncle Gabby (Philippe Noiret), a club female impersonator, while her mom sees her lover for the weekend. All Zazie wants to do is ride the Métro, unfortunately there’s a strike and she takes out her anger on all the adults. After the sightseeing trip to the Eiffel Tower, Zazie loses her uncle and his taxi driver friend (Antoine Roblot) and bolts to a flea market. There a fussy man dressed in a gray suit with a red carnation in his lapel and adorned with a big mustache (Vittorio Caprioli) who uses many different names and disguises, and it’s never clear if he’s a cop, pedophile or rake, buys her a pair of blue jeans and treats her to French fries and mussels. The impish kid loses him after the meal and he chases her around the city, taking time off to woo a wealthy lovesick widow (Yvonne Clech) and Gabby’s pretty dressmaker wife Albertine (Carla Marlier). It has a depraved ending, where there’s a food fight in a cafe and then the cafe is destroyed in what seems to be an homage to those in loony bins with anger-management problems. It ends with mom retrieving Zazie and returning home by railroad, as the kid when asked if she had a good time says she had only a so-so time (which is my reaction to the pic).

It’s an anarchist farce (possibly with a political agenda, that’s not too clearly spelled out), with loopy characters galore and a crass tomboy heroine who chatters in gobbledygook, is nasty to everyone and asks a lot of questions about sex. In fact, every character is charged up over sex and they all seem to make light of sexual deviance. Maybe this frankness over sex is a good thing or just a French thing, but this zany adolescent film left me confused as to what it was trying to say; that is, if it was trying to say anything. But even if it’s a failure, which I think it is, it’s still an interesting failure with possibilities there’s something worth picking up out of the rubble. Just don’t ask me what that is at this time.